THE Australian Bar Association has warned lawyers to be wary about accepting judicial office from Fiji’s military-backed government because their appointments could be seen as tainted.
The warning, from ABA president Tom Bathurst QC, comes soon after the International Bar Association raised doubts about the legitimacy of judicial appointments in Fiji since the 2006 coup.
The IBA’s concerns are outlined in a damning report by the organisation’s Human Rights Institute that says the rule of law has been steadily deteriorating in Fiji since the coup.
Mr Bathurst said the report was in line with the ABA’s own concerns. Anybody who might be considering accepting judicial office in Fiji “ought to have a good read of this report before they do so”, he said.
“Much as you might like to assist these countries, it is very difficult when on an objective view it could be seen as a tainted appointment.
“People have got to look very hard before they take these appointments. They are superficially attractive but they have huge problems.”
The IBAHRI report says the military-backed regime “has taken steps to influence, control or intimidate the judiciary and the legal profession”.
“The interim regime, apparently allied to some members of the judiciary, the legal profession and the Fiji Human Rights Commission, have attacked those members of the judiciary and the legal profession who have attempted to defend human rights and the justice system,” the report says.
Judges who have been appointed or promoted since the coup have heard cases that relate to the constitutionality of their own appointments, the report says. It says the regime has tried to silence critical news and comment, has deported expatriate publishers, has misused proceedings for contempt of court and altered the membership of the body that nominates judges to the bench — the Judicial Service Commission.
One of the judges who has been singled out for criticism in the IBAHRI report is Melbourne barrister Jocelynne Scutt (see accompanying report).
The IBAHRI also says the appointment of Fiji’s new Chief Justice, Anthony Gates, an Australian citizen, needs to be reviewed to determine if it breaches the Fiji constitution.
Justice Gates, who is British born and Cambridge-educated, was a magistrate at the time of the 1987 coup that had been led by military strongman Sitiveni Rabuka.
After he refused to swear an oath of allegiance to Colonel Rabuka, he and other judicial officers were dismissed and he spent almost five years in Brisbane as a public prosecutor.
Chief Justice Gates has held his current position since December. He was previously acting chief justice, a title he had held since chief justice Daniel Fatiaki was suspended soon after the coup.
Charges were laid against Chief Justice Fatiaki that were dropped late last year as part of a “settlement” in which he agreed to resign as chief justice and was given $F275,000 by the military-backed Government.
“The suspension by chief justice Fatiaki by the military regime should be condemned by all supporters of the rule of law, particularly given that all charges were eventually dropped and a large settlement payment was made by the regime,” the IBAHRI says.
The report has found that it is “questionable” whether the appointment of Justice Gates as the new Chief Justice is constitutional.
“The IBAHRI also considers that there are doubts about the validity of appointments made to the bench since January 2007,” the report says.
It says those doubts are likely to continue because of changes the military-backed Government has made to the Judicial Service Commission.
The report says a number of vacancies are due to arise on the Fiji Supreme Court but says it appears there is no way “unquestioningly legitimate” appointments can be made to those vacancies because “a nomination will be perceived as compromised by the method of appointment”.
The IBAHRI recommended that no more judges should be appointed by the regime in Suva until democratic elections are held.
It says there are sufficient concerns about the Fiji judiciary “to constitute a reasonable doubt about a lack of judicial independence within the current Fiji judiciary”.
It recommends that the Fiji judiciary respect freedom of expression among the media and the legal profession.
Mr Bathurst endorsed the IBAHRI’s report and said very senior members of the judiciary in Australia and New Zealand had “quite rightly” either declined to serve on the Fiji bench or had allowed their commissions to lapse.
We all know that the ig is UNCONSTITUTIONAL and all appointments under their illegal watch is a sham.
Alas they’re all in denial, and Piggys Political Leaders meeting today denying the media access is another point of fact.
The ig can make up their own set of rules to suit themselve as much as they want, but at the end of the day IT IS ALL A WASTE OF RESOURCES AS THE IG IS ILLEGAL. ILLEGAL. ILLEGAL.